Michael/Male/26-30. Lives in United States/Pennsylvania/Wexford/Christopher Wren, speaks English. Spends 20% of daytime online. Uses a Fast (128k-512k) connection. And likes baseball /politics.
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Friday, August 17, 2007

Phillies vs. Pirates 

This weekend’s series with the Pittsburgh Pirates will be a tune-up for the Phillies stretch run, which will see them kick-off games with the Dodgers, Padres, Mets and other contenders in the coming days. I wouldn’t call these games against the Pirates “Must Wins”, but losses in Pittsburgh will be costly to the Phillies down the stretch.

Don’t expect these to be easy games for the Phillies. The Pirates will send to the mound, in two games, two of their best pitchers, and the Pirates do have some talent on the mound. Game One, J.D. Durbin will face-off with Tom Gorzelanny, a left-handed with a 11-6 record and a 3.29 ERA. Gorzelanny doesn’t walk many batters (2.7 BB/9), doesn’t give up many home runs (0.75 HR/9), and does a nice job handicapping hitters. Durbin is out-matched here: he’s given up more walks (22) than gotten strikeouts (21) and clearly deserves his 1-4, 4.14 ERA record. The Phillies have to get to Gorzelanny and get him off the mound to have a chance.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.Runs Created
Zone Rating (ZR): Is a stat which measures a player’s defensive ability by measuring plays they should have made. Admittedly, this is a stat left open to subjective opinions.
ERA – Earned Run Average: (Earned Runs * 9) / IP = ERA
DER – Defense Efficiency Ratio: (Batters Faced – (Hits + Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) / (Batters Faced – (Home Runs, Walks + Hit By Pitch + Strikeouts)) How often fielders convert balls put into play into outs.
HR/9 – Home Runs allowed per nine innings: (HR * 9) / IP
BB/9 – Walks per nine innings: (BB * 9) / IP
K/9 – Strikeouts per nine innings: (K * 9) / IP

Game two, the Phillies send Jamie Moyer to contend with Paul Maholm, a very average pitcher. Finally, in Game Three, the Phillies send Kyle Lohse to work against Ian Snell. Snell is just 7-10, but he’s pitched just as well as Gorzelanny: his ERA is 3.87, and he gets a lot of strikeouts (7.8 K/9). Let’s hope Lohse can step things up on Sunday.

The bad news is that the Phillies are clearly out-classes by the Pirates in terms of starting pitching. The good news is that everywhere else, the Phillies hold the cards in this series. The Phillies lead the league in OBP and are one of the top slugging teams in the N.L. They lead the league in runs scored with 645, 41 more than the second-place Rockies. The Pirates rank near the bottom of the N.L. in OBP and Isolated Power at the plate so it ought to be no surprise that the only teams worse at scoring runs are the Giants and Nationals. Simply put, the Pirates have a collection of weak-hitting utility guys who hit singles occasionally. Even when Jason Bay and Adam LaRoche are hitting well, which they haven’t for big stretches of the season, the Pirates don’t set the table for them at all. Compare the Pirates offense to the Phillies:

Phillies / Pirates / N.L. avg.
OBP: .353 / .318 / .331
SLG: .455 / .400 / .416
BA/RISP: .264 / .255 / .265

The Phillies are also much faster. Memo to the Pirates: if you are going to have a weak-hitting offense, your position players can’t be a bunch of slow-foots either. Even without Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn, the Phillies are easily more aggressive and quicker on the base-paths.

Defensively things are a little closer, but here too, the Phillies hold the edge. The Phillies fielders are better at converting balls put into play into outs: .690 DER vs. .684, they have allowed fewer unearned runs (32 vs. 40), the Phillies have gotten to more balls outside of the fielder’s zone (309 vs. 257), they have a better Plus/Minus (+15 vs. -45) and Revised Zone Rating (.811 vs. .807), they’ve caught a greater percentage of base-stealers (31% vs. 26%), and … you kind of get the idea. Aside from the Pirates starting pitchers, these games are a complete mismatch. So the question is, can Gorzelanny, Maholm and Snell win this series for the Pirates? Because if the Phillies drive them from the mound, they will easily destroy the Pirates. My prediction: a 2-1 series win for the Phillies, with the Pirates taking tonight’s game 3-2, and the Phillies taking Saturday 7-4 and Sunday 6-2.

Incidentially, I’ll be at Sunday afternoon’s game at PNC Park, sitting waaaaay up in Section 307. (I live in the South Hills area of Pittsburgh.) If any Phillies fans are making the trip, be sure to give me an email … citizensblog at gmail dot com.

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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Eaton on the DL 

Jon Lieber, Brett Myers, Freddy Garcia, Chase Utley, Shane Victorino, Michael Bourn, Ryan Howard … and now Adam Eaton. Eaton left the Phillies roster with shoulder issues and went on the 15-day D.L. The Phillies overloaded rotation from the beginning of the season now consists of Cole Hamels, Jamie Moyer, Kyle Lohse, Kyle Kendrick, J.D. Durbin and Mike Zagurski. Truly, has there ever been a team as snake-bit by injuries as the 2007 Phillies? It’s honestly astonishing that the Phillies pitching isn’t worse with all of the starts that rookies have had to make for the Phillies. At the moment the Phillies rank fifteenth of sixteen teams in Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) ERA, just 0.03 better than the Nationals. Ouch.

The Phillies 4-2 loss drops them to third place and four games behind the Mets. The Phillies remain just one game back in the wildcard race. Tonight, Cole Hamels pitches for the Phillies. Hamels is 1-1 against the Nationals in 2007. Let’s hope Cole makes it 2-1.

Tomorrow, a preview of the Phillies and Pirates.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Iguchi & Gillick 

And the Phillies continue to win and keep pace with the Mets and Padres … Russell Branyan was a nice pickup by Pat Gillick for the Phillies stretch run: an unheralded veteran who has been to the playoffs and has played in a pennant race. Nice work.

One of the major reasons why the Phillies continue to win even with Chase Utley on the DL with a broken hand is the play of Tadahito Iguchi. Iguchi, the long-time White Sox and member of their ’05 World Series championship team, has been playing well with the Phillies: in fifteen games, he has an OBP of .403 and has raised his slugging percentage to .468. He has ten Runs Created, for 6.5 RC/27. He’s also turning in some solid work at second base: 133 innings, no errors, and a .861 Relative Zone Rating.

Confused about what I’m talking about? Here are the stats I refer to defined:
On-Base Percentage (OBP): How often a player gets on base. (H + BB + HBP) / (Plate Appearances)
Slugging Percentage (SLG): Total Bases / At-Bats = Slugging Percentage. Power at the plate.
Runs Created (RC): A stat originally created by Bill James to measure a player’s total contribution to his team’s lineup. Here is the formula: [(H + BB + HBP - CS - GIDP) times ((S * 1.125) + (D * 1.69) + (T * 3.02) + (HR * 3.73) + (.29 * (BB + HBP – IBB)) + (.492 * (SB + SF + SH)) – (.04 * K))] divided by (AB + BB + HBP + SH+ SF).
RC/27: Runs Created per 27 outs, essentially what a team of 9 of this player would score in a hypothetical game.
Zone Rating (ZR): Is a stat which measures a player’s defensive ability by measuring plays they should have made. Admittedly, this is a stat left open to subjective opinions.

If the Phillies do make the playoffs and continue to click on all cylinders, then credit Pat Gillick for stealing Iguchi from the White Sox. Nice move.

Short post today because I’ve been tired. Next week A Citizens Blog will be concentrating on the Phillies pitching staff. Stay tuned, you won’t want to miss it!

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Playoff Picture 

With 45 games left, I thought we’d take a moment today to sketch out the Phillies path to the post-season. The Phillies haven’t played October baseball since 1993 and long-suffering Phillies fans are wondering if this will finally be the year for it to happen. I’m 50-50 myself. I think the Phillies have a decent shot at out-pacing the Mets for the division and/or taking the wildcard. The ’07 Phillies are doing a heck of a lot better in the standings than the ’06 team did at game #117:

2007: 62-55 (1.0 games out of wildcard)
2006: 57-60 (3.5 games out of wildcard)

The ’07 team is a lot stronger and deeper than the ’06 team was – how else could they have absorbed so many injuries and still be in the thick of the playoff race?

So the path ahead looks like … Tonight, the Phillies open up a three-game series with the Washington Nationals in D.C. The Phillies send new hurler Kyle Lohse to the mound to battle Shawn Hill, the Nats starter who is slated to return after a shoulder strain sidelined him in early May. On paper the Nats look like easy prey, but looks can be deceiving. Remember that the Nationals fatally torpedoed the Phillies playoff chances last season when they took two of three from the Phillies in the second-to-last series of the season.

After that the Phillies move on to Pittsburgh to play the Pirates. I’ll be at the game on Sunday when Lohse takes the mound again to face-off with Shane Youman. The hapless Pirates are another seemingly great match-up for the Phillies to exploit. The Pirates have the worst record in the N.L. and seem destined to remain a bottom-feeder in the playoff picture. Is a three-game sweep a possibility? Sure. Anything less than a 2-1 split for the Phillies would be a major disappointment.

After that, the Phillies enter a stretch where they’ll play 16 games in 16 days. This will be vital to the Phillies playoff chances. Here is who the Phillies play and their record:

August 21-23: Dodgers (.513)
August 24-26: Padres (.538)
August 27-30: Mets (.556)
Aug. 31 – Sept. 2: Marlins (.466)
September 3-5: Braves (.525)

Aside from the Marlins, not a single game with a team that has a losing record. Very problematic to me is the fact that the Phillies are going to have to deal with the Dodgers and Padres, teams with excellent pitching staffs, at the start of the stretch. Will the experience of facing-off with Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Jake Peavy and the rest of the West Coast aces hurt the Phillies going into their series with the Mets?

On the plus side, the first ten games in the stretch (Dodgers, Padres and Mets) are at home.

After that the Phillies get more games with the Marlins, Nats, Mets and Braves.

Impressions: sadly the Phillies are finished, after they play the Pirates, with N.L. Central creampuffs. The Phillies are 22-13 against the Central in 2007, but 10-14 and 22-21 against the West and East respectively. Again, the Phillies atruggles against the N.L. West are a big reason why the games between August 21 & 26 are so crucial. They are playing well wildcard competitors in the Padres and Dodgers and they are matching up with teams that are pitching-heavy. Those games against the Padres and Dodgers could fatally torpedo the Phillies, or propel them into the post-season. We shall see.


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Monday, August 13, 2007

Goodbye Charlie Manuel? 

General Manager Pat Gillick, in an interview recently on sports talk radio, recently declined to give Manager Charlie Manuel a vote of confidence and state that Manuel will be the manager of the red pinstripes in 2008. I’m not surprised at all to see Gillick uninterested in Manuel returning, and I actually am surprised to see that Manuel is still the Phillies skipper. Gillick, remember, took over the team in 2006 and still kept Manuel on, even though Manuel had been hired and had worked as an advisor for the Phillies old regime. After the Phillies surprising run at the playoffs in ’06, I am sure that Gillick felt he had no choice but keep Manuel on for ’07, but short of the Phillies making the playoffs and doing some damage (making the World Series?) I think that Gillick will hand Manuel his pink slip at the end of the season.

So as the days close on the Manuel era I thought I might take stock a little bit. There are three questions worth asking:

Is Manuel an effective manager? I submit so. Compare Manuel’s record to that of Larry Bowa, Manuel’s predecessor:

Larry Bowa: 337-308 (.522)
Charlie Manuel: 233-204 (.533)

The difference between the two is miniscule. Bowa’s teams went 86-76 in 2001, 2002 and 2004, his worst record being a 80-81 finish in 2003. The Phillies finished second in ’01 and ’04 and third in ’02 and ’03. Manuel’s teams finished second in 2005 (88-74) and 2006 (85-77) and currently seem destined to finish second again in 2007 (with an 86-76 record). Sure, the Phillies haven’t made the playoffs under Bowa or Manuel, but they’ve won under both managers.

Credit Manuel, however, for keeping the Phillies competitive despite struggles in terms of major injuries to key members on the roster (Jim Thome in 2005, Aaron Rowand in 2006, Chase Utley, et al., in 2007) and despite slow starts. The Phillies were .490 under Bowa in April and .424 under Manuel. Imagine if the Phillies didn’t get off to such sluggish starts these last few years: the team plays .555 baseball after April under Manuel and .528 under Bowa.

If your curious, the Phillies would have averaged 90 wins in a season if they played at their post-April pace under Manuel.

Tactically, I think Manuel makes good decisions. He's not someone who over-manages and coaches himself right out of a game. According to the 2007 Bill James Handbook, he used the fewest lineups in the N.L., he was reluctant to yank starters from games, he didn't sacrifice bunt or base-steal or try many hit-and-runs, instead relying on his team's strength, its capacity to hit the ball and hit the ball hard to score runs. A good manager days to his team's strengths.

Who will replace him? There are two candidates that spring to mind and they both sit on the Phillies bench next to Manuel. The first is Jimy Williams, the former coach of the Red Sox, Blue Jays and Astros. The 64-year old Williams has worked with Gillick before as coach of the Blue Jays from 1986 to 1989, so there is a relationship between the two. Gillick would probably feel comfortable with Williams holding the reins, however …

I think the real candidate to replace Manuel stands behind the first base bag: Davey Lopes.

This season you’ve seen real aggressiveness on the Phillies part to press aggressively on the base-paths and steal bases. Credit the Phillies newfound aggressiveness to Lopes, whose energy and enthusiasm and passion for the running game makes him Manuel’s heir apparent. True, he’s not much younger than Williams (62), and doesn’t have as much experience as a manager as Williams (340 games with the Brewers vs. 1,701), but Lopes has energy and passion, and he is selling the gospel of the running game. The Phillies under Manuel seem like an N.L. Moneyball team, reliant on the walk and the three-run home run to generate offense. With the tide turning against Moneyball and home runs in the minds of managers and pundits, Gillick and the Phillies management must be impressed with how aggressively Lopes has pushed the running game. Despite playing in a park tailor-made for bash ball, the ’07 Phillies rank second in the N.L. in stolen bases with 92. This is a much more aggressive running team, a factor I credit evenly to Lopes influence and to updates in the Phillies personnel (specifically, Shane Victorino and Michael Bourn).

Can someone do a better job? Manuel’s stumbles in April are interesting to analyze here. People fault Manuel for being too laid-back in handling his players and submit that the Phillies struggles at the outset of the season are a product of Manuel’s lack of intensity. Is that true? Bowa’s teams struggled in April too and went on to play better ball later in the season and nobody would mistake Larry Bowa for Charlie Manuel. The ’04 Phillies got off to nearly the same start – 10-11 – as Manuel did the next three seasons as skipper: 10-14 in ’05, 10-14 in ’06 and 11-14 this season. I don’t think intensity is an issue here, and I don’t think intensity is a plus either. Gene Mauch mercilessly rode his teams, and the ’64 Phillies boast one of the most epic collapses in sports history. The ’86 California Angels blew a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and dropped three in a row to the Boston Red Sox. Intense managers ride their teams into the group. Manuel was temperamentally well-suited to managing a veteran ball club like the Phillies.

What about the weather? Well, the Phillies are built around the big bang theory of baseball. April, with the rainy weather in the Northeast, is hardly the best time of year for the Phillies brand of baseball. In July and August, with the blisteringly hot weather, is great for big bang baseball. Any coincidence that the Phillies do well at this time of the season?

I hope everyone enjoyed the weekend. Tomorrow, a look at the Phillies playoff prospects.

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